Prayer During Tragedy

Events in our national life are often sadly familiar. That is certainly true of the Orlando shootings this past weekend. Mass violence. Contentious claims about Islam and domestic terrorism. The nation briefly rallying in solidarity. Prayers, anguish, and calls for change. Probable failure to address the root causes. An almost inevitable repetition in the near future.

What is also becoming familiar, however, is a certain reaction to this reaction, especially the prayer. Within hours of the attack, I saw memes on Facebook like the phrase “Pray for America” with the “Pray” crossed out and the words “Policy Change” written beneath.

This is not a wholly new phenomenon. “Prayer shaming” was a prominent element of the reaction to the San Bernardino shootings in December 2015. Of all the things to capture our national attention in the wake of disaster, it was prayer and its efficacy. Read More


The Mystery in the Mundane

In Madrid we live in apartment flats (pisos) and our house chapel is a converted bedroom – a rather small bedroom. For our community of fifteen fully grown Jesuits, it can be a tight fit. The space is about twice as long as it is wide, so we sit on a bench against one of the longer walls, leaving just enough room for the presiding priest to face us from the other side of a narrow altar. If you’ve ever wondered why the disciples are all on one side of the table in Da Vinci’s Last Supper, here’s a possible explanation: perhaps they were dining in someone’s bedroom.

Most people experience the liturgy from a distance, noticing arms raised and lowered, the mixing of water and wine, the shuffle of plates, cups, and candles. For most people, everything happens somewhere up there. In our chapel there is no up there, no long processions, no smoke and mirrors; the back row is the front row and you can’t help but notice every last detail. It all happens, quite literally, right before your eyes. I’ve basically memorized the nervous tics of each presiders’ hands, their habits of turning pages, breaking bread, pouring wine.

I, like many people, normally adopt a ‘safe-distance’ approach to the sacraments — hoping to experience God at my own pace and on my own terms — so, at first, this bedroom-chapel arrangement was a little jarring. What had been a public ritual celebrated in big cavernous churches, had become an intimate act, a personal experience — a fitting preparation, I suppose, for my own ordination. What was once a kind of magic has become, by grace, mundane.

***

I recently went to Rome and visited the mother church of the Jesuits, the Gesu. Let me assure you — it’s one mother of a church. Baroque exuberance at its best, the Gesu is overwhelmingly beautiful without falling, as so much baroque art does, into the hopelessly gaudy. This church is flooded with the full force of the Ignatian imagination, the greater glory of God crammed into every last detail. I imagine the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins would marvel at it all — a temple turned playground where the eye can’t help but tumble from one thing to the next, the whole church charged with the grandeur of God, angels and saints flaming out all over the place.

My early liturgical experiences took place in moldy gymnasiums that smelled of adolescent boys and industrial grade disinfectant – first at my Catholic high school and later as a volunteer at Central Juvenile Hall in downtown LA. I recalled those gym-masses as I stood in the Gesu and remembered something I once heard one of those jail priests say, trying to encourage reluctant kids to come forward for communion or a blessing: “Sometimes we fear this moment because we think it’s too sacred for us, but the greater risk is forgetting that it’s also a meal where all are wanted and everyone welcomed.”

There is no risk, in the Gesu church, of forgetting that what happens there is sacred. There is greater risk of forgetting that what we memorialize there was a simple meal – a last supper for a soon to be convict. In that great stone church, dedicated to the name of Jesus, we gather to consecrate our most humble gifts and we pray that they become his body and blood. At the center of all that polished marble we are moved most by a bit of bread and a cup of wine.

In one corner of the church a large painting hides a silver statue of Ignatius – a real ‘man of steel’. Every afternoon a baroque mechanism (fabulously called a ‘conversion machine’) scrolls away the painting, dramatically revealing the statue behind – it’s basically the 17th century equivalent of a gif. Watching the whole show unfold it struck me that we also risk forgetting that Ignatius, like Christ, like us, was human. Fleshy and fallen, by many measures, a failure.

***

Back in Madrid one of our beloved elder Jesuits made us smile recently during a daily liturgy by absentmindedly taking the elevation of the host as a convenient time to simultaneously glance at his watch. It wasn’t a grave crime, just the liturgical pragmatism of a septuagenarian priest saying mass in a converted bedroom. He probably needed to take a pill at a certain hour, something that – through him, with him, and in him – he didn’t want to forget.

This same priest began showing signs of Parkinson’s earlier this year. His hands shake when he’s not focused. I watch them move through the liturgy like I’d watch my mother’s hands in the kitchen as a kid, like I’d watch the hands of a woodworker or a calligrapher. They know well the pages, the tabs, the ribbons, the simple rhythm of it all. That he can recite the prayers while checking the time is actually a kind of proof of faithfulness – if not attentiveness – and even his liturgical blunders are a memorial of grace.

Watching his hands I am reminded of how the sacred is poured out in frailty, how the mundane is made holy in fidelity. In a bedroom chapel, a jailhouse gym, or the Gesu church, in all things and in every moment, it’s good to remember that we are all held together by a few trembling hands and a little holy communion.

This article by Brendan Busse, SJ originally appeared at The Jesuit Post.

 


10 Ways to Make Meaningful Connections in the Digital Age

Smartphones are supposedly ruining our lives and making us incapable of having real conversations. But phones, like other modern means of communication, are tools. We can surely misuse them, but we can also use them to create meaningful connection. Here are ten ways:

1) Practice “relationship life support” — but don’t be afraid to unfollow or unfriend

Writing “Happy birthday!” on a friend’s wall, liking someone’s pic on Instagram, or retweeting a friend’s witty remark are forms of relationship life support. While this communication is generally not deep, it can at least help to keep a relationship alive.

That being said, sometimes relationships shouldn’t be continued. I probably don’t need to see updates about my fifth grade acquaintance I will never meet again. Unfriending and unfollowing can allow me to have the mental bandwidth to invest in more meaningful relationships.

2) Hide behind a screen to get over your fears

The anonymity of the net creates trolls and Yik Yak abuse, but it can also be used for good. Recently, I have been using a site to connect with language tutors for one-on-one Skype sessions. Exactly because they are people I will never meet in person, I don’t care what I sound like. I end up getting great practice in the language and meeting cool people at the same time.

Maybe you have some nerdy passion that your in-person friends don’t share? The internet was meant for connecting people who share common interests. Read More


Rethinking Chill

This post by Eric Immel, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post.

“Will you go out with me?” It’s a terrifying question once awkwardly muttered by romantically untried youths everywhere. No longer. I may have first uttered the words during a teen night at my local YMCA, or perhaps over my family’s landline on a Thursday – the one day of the week I was allowed to call friends on the phone in 6th grade. It’s a dead concept now – going steady – dust clinging to the soles of in-fashion shoes too cool, too free, too noncommittal.

I’m a little slow on the uptake regarding popular trends in post-adolescent romantic culture, but I’ve recently heard of a dating phenomenon referred to as ‘Chill.’1 This epidemic, as one article calls it, seems to be the norm and the goal: cool, unconcerned, open, and easy relationships. ‘Chill’ is a way to get out of the “will you go out with me” question. People seeking  some form of romantic involvement hold each other at bay with a ‘Chill’ attitude that says, “we’re just having fun,” and, “we’re in no rush to commit ourselves to each other,” and, “there are lots of people out there that we deserve to experience.” It takes many forms, from openness in casually dating multiple people to the cryptic ‘Netflix and Chill,’ which I gather is some new articulation of an ever-growing hookup culture. Some defend the concept, albeit not fully, and others find it unpredictable and unsafe. I lean more towards the latter.

I’m worried that, at least for a moment, people forget that we actually feel things – real, emotional things that matter deeply, things that shatter us, that then define us. When we pretend we don’t feel these things – desire, disappointment, longing, loyalty, affection, anxiety – we may become complacent or numb, we may lose passion, and we may lose our ability to love. These results don’t feel ‘chill’ to me. Numbness disconnects us from reality. Lost passion leads to apathy. Love never manipulates, never seeks a selfish, one-sided end, and never leaves a wake of brokenness in its path. ‘Chill’ doesn’t ensure that we will become callous and fractured, but it can be a green light to set things in motion.

‘Chill’ may offer protection from fear of rejection, but it doesn’t really offer peace that comes with authentic connection and companionship. Perhaps we should look for a new form of ‘chill.’ One that admits that we’re comfortable with the reality that we need each other in deep and intimate ways. One that never pushes away, always drawing us closer to what we hope lives at the center of all relationships – a crazy little thing called love.

******

 


5 Ways Gratitude Can Change American Politics

This post by Bill McCormick, SJ  is also featured on The Jesuit Post.

Donald Trump. Income inequality. Government shutdowns. School shootings. The refugee crisis. Immigration reform. Declining wages. Health care costs. Campaign finance. Congressional leadership. Donald Trump. Outsourcing. Culture wars. Lobbyists. Ferguson. Homelessness. Failing schools. Crony capitalism. Voter apathy. Media bias. Racial Inequality. Did I mention Donald Trump?     

What’s your reaction to this list?

I know mine: gratitude. Read More


Newborn: Prayers Answered

This post by  Keith Maczkiewicz, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post.

I don’t think I ever prayed for anything as regularly or as fervently. Since last Christmas, when my sister told us she and her husband were expecting their first child, the constant petition on my lips was for the health of mother and baby. “For my sister and all pregnant women.” I said it a lot.

And I meant it.

I knew my sister was in good hands with my brother in-law and mother around, and since I live far from them, I couldn’t do much anyway. But I could pray. When I have nothing else to offer, I can at least do that. So I prayed for my sister at staff meetings, at Mass in my community, during my personal prayer times. I invited others to pray with me for her and asked God to direct it all, as God willed it.

And I waited. Read More


Prada or Nada?: 3 Simple Fashion Tips from Pope Francis

This post by Henry Longbottom, SJ is also featured on The Jesuit Post.

A few weeks back, we heard of Papa Francesco’s escape from the confines of Vatican City to pay a visit to — of all places — his opticians. The tourists and journalists went wild, and the world applauded another instance of this humble Holy Father who loves to do the ordinary things in life. What struck me as particularly poignant, though, was his insistence that the optician only replace the lenses; he wanted to keep the frames.  Why?  Presumably because there was nothing wrong with them; they were well made, he had chosen them carefully, and rather liked them.  In other words, he eschews the type of anxious consumerism that Laudato Si identifies as leading people to “get caught up in a whirlwind of needless buying and spending” [203].

At this juncture I should make a small confession.  I love consuming.  My commendable inquisitive nature is matched by my less virtuous acquisitive habits.  And on a recent trip to the Italian city of Milan, I was reminded that I belong to a rare breed of contemporary Jesuit.  I am fascinated by the world of fashion. Read More